Every month we see machines crossing our desks delivering fantastic gaming performance. That's all well and good if you're an oligarch or third-world dictator, but for the rest of us, any machine north of a grand is out of our budget. Even at £650, the AT-FX Dragon is pushing it a little, but when you're getting this performance in a sub- £1,000 rig, you're laughing.
You see, the combination of happily overclocked CPU and quality GPU makes this gaming rig dangerously close, in performance terms, to machines twice the price. Granted, it's dropping frames on £1,000+ rigs, but so long as you're batting above 30fps on full settings at 1680x1050 and 1920x1080, then what's 5fps difference?
There are compromises in the Dragon though, most notably the lack of OS. You can have one installed at purchase but that obviously adds an extra premium on top, though if you're smart you've already downloaded the frighteningly stable Windows 7 RC1 so you can have a fully functioning OS running on it for free. It wont last forever, but will give you enough time to save up your pennies.
There's also the slightly stingy 2GB of DDR2, which seems odd considering the bottom has completely dropped out of that end of the memory market. Still, it's not going to cost much to rectify that further down the line when you get around to it. But in gaming terms that hardly matters; unless you're regularly alt-tabbing with gay abandon, then 2GB is still a viable amount of RAM for a gaming rig.
But AMD's fantastic Phenom II X4 is a great chip and, with the CoolIT all-in-one Domino water-cooling block, the chip stays regulated at around 40°C even with the 500MHz overclock. We managed a stable 3.8GHz clockspeed, and could possibly see it pushing further with the right amount of memory and voltage tweakery. But at 3.5GHz, the quad-core CPU will cope with almost anything you throw at it.
The 4870 in its 1GB GDDR5 guise is likewise a capable GPU, delivering playable framerates even at 2560x1600. This is the bonus result of the launch of the 4890: the capable 4870 has dropped in price and now props up the cheaper end of the gaming rig spectrum.
The Dragon, as its name suggests, is the result of the bargain pricing of AMD's Dragon platform, and proves that you can build a performance gaming rig for well under a grand. It's the perfect fit for a 22-inch panel and will keep you gaming at the high-end for a while yet.
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